Northill, Bedfordshire, England
|Occupation||Clock- and watchmaker|
Thomas Tompion (1639–1713) was an English clockmaker, watchmaker and mechanician who is still regarded to this day as the "Father of English Clockmaking". Tompion's work includes some of the most historic and important clocks and watches in the world, and can command very high prices whenever outstanding examples appear at auction. A plaque commemorates the house he shared on Fleet Street in London with his equally famous pupil and successor George Graham.
Thomas Tompion was born around 1639 and was baptized on 25 July 1639 in Northill, Bedfordshire, England.The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers maintains the family cottage in Ickwell, his home hamlet in the parish of Northill. He was the eldest son of a blacksmith, also named Thomas Tompion, and probably worked as a blacksmith until 1664 when he became an apprentice of a London clockmaker. Very little of his earlier years is known. The first reference to Tompion in London is recorded around the end of 1670 in Water Lane (now Whitefriars Street) off Fleet Street.
His early clockmaking style shows a strong connection with Joseph Knibb. This is of interest as Tompion's most important early patron was the scientist Robert Hooke who may well have known the Knibb family, as both were in Oxford. Hooke's relationship with Tompion was the key to his success as it opened doors to royal patronage as well as giving him access to the latest technology.
Tompion's excellence was based on the sound design of his productions as well as the high quality of the materials used. This together with the outstanding skills of the workmen he employed gave him an unrivalled reputation throughout the known world. Many of these workmen had French and Dutch Huguenot origins, for example Daniel and Nicholas Delander, Henry Callot and Charles Molyns, the latter possibly related to the family Windmills. Importantly, those Huguenots who worked for him in the sphere of decorative arts were able to execute Tompion's demands for the high quality workmanship on which he founded his unrivalled reputation. Tompion was an early member of the Clockmakers' Company of London – he joined in 1671 and became a master in 1704.
When the Royal Observatory was established in 1676, King Charles II selected Tompion to create two identical clocks based on Hooke's idea of a very long pendulum swinging in a very small arc. These were fixed in the Octagon room, each was driven by a deadbeat escapement designed by Richard Towneley, with both clocks only needing to be wound once a year. They proved to be very accurate and were instrumental in achieving the correct calculations needed for astronomical observations.
Due to his relationship with the scientist Robert Hooke he made some of the first watches with balance springs, these had the potential to be much more accurate than earlier watches. Several different kinds were experimented with, including an early type with double balances geared together in order to eliminate errors of motion. One of these was made for King Charles II and was signed "Robert Hooke invent. 1658. T. Tompion fecit, 1675". William Derham mentions this in his book The Artificial Clockmaker.This watch, it seems, has not survived. The final form of balance spring arrangement used by Tompion was a plain spiral with a single balance, indeed the same arrangement employed by Christiaan Huygens in watches made for him by Thuret. A few of Tompion's early spiral balance spring movements were also of a similar specification to the Huygens/Thuret pattern as they had a standing barrel and no fusee. Huygens imagined that the latter would not be necessary as the spiral spring would render the balance isochronous. Tompion must have soon found this rather optimistic surmise was however incorrect, as all Tompion's subsequent spiral balance spring movements have fusees, and this design became the standard pattern in English watches throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
It is often stated that Tompion invented the particular type of balance spring regulation in pocket watches widely used until the late 19th century. This has the curb pins mounted on a sector rack, and moved by a pinion on which is mounted a graduated and numbered disc. While this system was used by Tompion, many refer to it incorrectly as the "Tompion regulator". However, he certainly did not invent this system, as such regulating devices were already in use by the 1670s on French balance spring watches of the Thuret pattern.
As England's most prominent watchmaker, Tompion's workshop built about 5,500 watches and 650 clocks during his career.Tompion's clocks are known for their ingenuity of design and robust construction. His three-train grande sonnerie bracket clocks are masterpieces. Those interested in mechanics are particularly attracted to the mechanisms of such clocks and his repeating watches as they are quite complex, indeed it could even be said over-complex, though efficient in operation. He shares this characteristic with the later French-Swiss watchmaker Breguet.
Another of Tompion's innovations was to create a numbering system for his spring and longcase clocks, which is thought to be the first time that a serial numbering system was applied to manufactured goods.
Tompion went into partnership with Edward Banger in 1701 until about 1707 or 1708, when it was dissolved in circumstances which are not at all clear. Certainly from around 1711 it was George Graham who was in partnership with Tompion. Some of his later productions are jointly signed, and mysteriously some clocks have this signature on a separate plate which overlays that of Tompion and Banger engraved on the dial plate proper.
George Graham, went on to further develop the designs of both scientific instruments as well as clocks and watches after Tompion's death, and he also continued Tompion's numbering system for his clocks and watches.
Thomas Tompion died on 20 November 1713 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, George Graham being buried alongside him in 1751. Many of his clocks are still operational today, including two of his one-year clocks in Buckingham Palace. Many of his watches survive and due to their sound construction still continue to work, as predicted by Hatton in 1773.
The modern Swiss wristwatch brand "Tompion" of the so-called "British Masters" series has no connection either with Thomas Tompion or the original firm of that name.
Thos. Tompion is one of the statues of craftsmen set on the Exhibition Road facade of the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington.
In Elizabeth Goudge's 1960 novel The Dean's Watch, Thomas Tompion is remembered reverently by the clockmaker Isaac Peabody.
In the 1986 film Clockwise , the school of which John Cleese's character is headmaster was named for Thomas Tompion, appropriate given the headmaster's attention to punctuality.
John Harrison was a self-educated English carpenter and clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer, a long-sought-after device for solving the problem of calculating longitude while at sea.
The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers was established under a Royal Charter granted by King Charles I in 1631. It ranks sixty-first among the livery companies of the City of London, and comes under the jurisdiction of the Privy Council. The company established a library and its Museum in 1813, which is the oldest specific collection of clocks and watches worldwide. This is administered by the company's affiliated charity, the Clockmakers’ Charity, and is presently housed on the second floor of London's Science Museum. The modern aims of the company and its Museum are charitable and educational, in particular to promote and preserve clockmaking and watchmaking, which as of 2019 were added to the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts.
A watchmaker is an artisan who makes and repairs watches. Since a majority of watches are now factory made, most modern watchmakers only repair watches. However, originally they were master craftsmen who built watches, including all their parts, by hand. Modern watchmakers, when required to repair older watches, for which replacement parts may not be available, must have fabrication skills, and can typically manufacture replacements for many of the parts found in a watch. The term clockmaker refers to an equivalent occupation specializing in clocks.
A clockmaker is an artisan who makes and/or repairs clocks. Since almost all clocks are now factory-made, most modern clockmakers only repair clocks. Modern clockmakers may be employed by jewellers, antique shops, and places devoted strictly to repairing clocks and watches. Clockmakers must be able to read blueprints and instructions for numerous types of clocks and time pieces that vary from antique clocks to modern time pieces in order to fix and make clocks or watches. The trade requires fine motor coordination as clockmakers must frequently work on devices with small gears and fine machinery.
George Graham was an English clockmaker, inventor, and geophysicist, and a Fellow of the Royal Society.
A grandfather clock is a tall, freestanding, weight-driven pendulum clock with the pendulum held inside the tower or waist of the case. Clocks of this style are commonly 1.8–2.4 metres (6–8 feet) tall. The case often features elaborately carved ornamentation on the hood, which surrounds and frames the dial, or clock face. The English clockmaker William Clement is credited with the development of this form in 1670. Until the early 20th century, pendulum clocks were the world's most accurate timekeeping technology, and longcase clocks, due to their superior accuracy, served as time standards for households and businesses. Today they are kept mainly for their decorative and antique value, being widely replaced by both analog and digital timekeeping.
A balance spring, or hairspring, is a spring attached to the balance wheel in mechanical timepieces. It causes the balance wheel to oscillate with a resonant frequency when the timepiece is running, which controls the speed at which the wheels of the timepiece turn, thus the rate of movement of the hands. A regulator lever is often fitted, which can be used to alter the free length of the spring and thereby adjust the rate of the timepiece.
Salomon Coster was a Dutch clockmaker of the Hague, who in 1657 was the first to make a pendulum clock, which had been invented by Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695). Coster's earliest pendulum clocks were signed "Samuel Coster Haghe met privilege", indicating that he had been authorized by the inventor to make such clocks. John Fromanteel, the son of a London clockmaker, Ahasuerus, went to work for Coster. He was one of many foreign clockmakers to soon make pendulum clocks following the prototype by Huygens and Coster. A contract was signed on 3 September 1657 between Salomon Coster and John Fromanteel which allowed Fromanteel to continue making the clocks. This clock design was heralded as a new beginning in the clockmaking industry, due to its level of timekeeping accuracy which was previously unheard of.
A marine chronometer is a timepiece that is precise and accurate enough to be used as a portable time standard; it can therefore be used to determine longitude by means of accurately measuring the time of a known fixed location, for example Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the time at the current location. When first developed in the 18th century, it was a major technical achievement, as accurate knowledge of the time over a long sea voyage is necessary for navigation, lacking electronic or communications aids. The first true chronometer was the life work of one man, John Harrison, spanning 31 years of persistent experimentation and testing that revolutionized naval navigation and enabling the Age of Discovery and Colonialism to accelerate.
Ickwell is a small rural village in the Central Bedfordshire district of the county of Bedfordshire, England about 6.5 miles (10 km) south-east of the county town of Bedford.
The Thuret family of clockmakers established themselves as one of the outstanding craftsman-dynasties in 17th- and 18th-century Paris. Their clocks are signed "Thuret", and distinguishing which member of the Thuret family made a specific clock is sometimes an unrewarding effort.
Benjamin Vulliamy, was a clockmaker responsible for building the Regulator Clock, which, between 1780 and 1884, was the official regulator of time in London.
Joseph Knibb (1640–1711) was an English clockmaker of the Restoration era. According to author Herbert Cescinsky, a leading authority on English clocks, Knibb, "next to Tompion, must be regarded as the greatest horologist of his time."
John Knibb (1650–1722) was an English clockmaker born in Claydon, Oxfordshire. He produced various clocks and watches including bracket clocks, lantern clocks, longcase clocks, and some wall-clocks, as well as building and maintaining several turret clocks. Even though his main market was catering to customers of modest means, he also dominated the higher-quality sector. Only six of Knibb's watches are known to survive.
Joseph Windmills (c1640-1724), was an eminent London watch- and clockmaker who, with his son Thomas, produced outstanding timepieces between 1671 and 1737.
Charles Gretton was a prominent clock and watchmaker during the golden age of English clockmaking.
Daniel Delander, also known as De Lander or Delaunder, was a notable London clock and watch maker coming from a dynasty of clockmakers.
John Tolson (1691–1737) was an important if elusive English clockmaker and watchmaker of the early eighteenth century who, while not particularly remarkable for his invention, is noteworthy because of the fine quality of his clocks and watches. The style of his early longcase clocks owes much to Thomas Tompion, and the delicate functionality of his early longcase wheelwork echoes Tompion's standards. His short career of 22 years before an early death in 1737 makes his clocks and watches relatively rare and they can command high prices whenever outstanding examples appear at auction.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Tompion, Thomas .|